As an adult, I remember as a child seeing images of dolls and advertising images on television and thinking to myself “why do they not have anyone who looks like me?” Kids are literally advertised to 365 days a year, with a massive push right before it’s time for back to school, and an extra obnoxiously massive push during the holidays.
The sad part is that as they are bombarded with all of these advertising images, most do not represent how all children look or their family situations.
Even though I was aware that things were like this as a child, as an adult, I can honestly say I never really paid it too much attention, until my own children brought it to my attention. When my oldest child started wondering why she couldn’t have white skin or yellow hair, I knew that there was a major issue.
The black children who are represented rarely have ‘African’ features
As African Americans, it is important to me that my children see other children or dolls that look like they do. This means having prevalent African American features. When we read classic children’s stories, most that feature AA children, have them drawn with thin lips, super straight hair (or always an afro), and narrow noses. This is not representative of all of us, nor all of my children.
It is easy as an adult to think “what should it matter, your kids won’t notice”, however, they do notice these attributes, and it can and does affect each one differently.
When children become accustomed to only seeing negative images of themselves in media (especially when they are already surrounded by negativity), it makes it difficult for them to understand there is a better way and that it’s not representative of who they are.
When children of color are represented, they are seldom the main character. And often times they are riddled with stereotypical actions.
Not only that, but as a mother, I want my children to be comfortable in their own skin, and not wonder why can’t they look like or be someone else, simply because there are not enough images or dolls around that look like they do.
Among the first toys we buy for our girls, dolls can help young Latinas negotiate racial identity, develop a healthy self-image, and form a well-rounded worldview. –Parents Magazine
Embracing diversity with American Girl
In January of this year, American debuted their first African American Girl of the Year doll. American Girl’s 2017 Girl of the Year is an African-American girl: Gabriela McBride, a dancer, and poet from Philadelphia who has used her art form to help overcome her challenge with stuttering.
Having dolls that resemble their features have opened up something special for my girls. As a mother, it’s something hard to explain. However, it’s something that I know that I was missing as a girl with my own dolls.
The biggest thing that I want my girls to remember is that we aren’t all alike, and we shouldn’t pretend to be.
Thank you, American Girl for sending us Gabby and providing inclusive dolls for little girls (and boys) around the world.
Love of impromptu dance parties, 80’s cartoons, and horizontal life pauses (aka naps); Natasha Brown is a stay at home mom of 4 kids, and wife to one lucky guy! In her spare time, she is co-editor of Grits & Grace, as well as editor for The Mother Hustler Blog and Creative Director for the Mother Hustler podcast.